‘Post blockchain’ tech used in local mini-grids


An Australian energy technology company is using post blockchain technology and utilising artificial intelligence to overhaul the way people use and trade power, the Australian Financial Review reports.

By making use of machine learning algorithms, RedGrid, which has been in operation for a year, has “created a new distributed architecture to underpin the energy grid and turn neighbourhoods, apartment blocks or shopping centres into their own mini-grids.”

This will allow for devices and appliances within the mini-grid – air conditioners, refrigerators and pool pumps – to communicate with each other and autonomously adjust energy consumption. This would allow for the redistribution of energy to other areas or products, as needed.

The technology will also help prevent blackouts during the summer when demand is at its peak, according to Dr Adam Bumpus, co-founder of RedGrid and a former senior research fellow in environment and innovation at Melbourne University.

The company is working with EnergyAustralia to run a pilot programme which will test whether machine learning could help manage peak energy times more efficiently.

Says EnergyAustralia executive of next-generation products and services, Andrew Perry: “Early-stage companies like RedGrid are busily working away on innovations that will help get us closer to a cleaner energy future and a digitally connected grid.

“Its automated demand management platform is an opportunity to reduce strain on the electricity grid at peak times in a cost-effective and reliable way. We look forward to seeing how our trial together plays out and how the technology can benefit customers.”

The company is working with shopping centre owners Spotless and Vicinity, to reduce energy wastage when devices are left on unnecessarily.

“It works if there’s a smart system underneath that can tell a shop keeper that the price of electricity is high at that time and Vicinity or Spotless will give them a rebate if they switch off their air conditioner,” Bumpus said.

“It’s simple stuff, but it hasn’t been done yet.”

The technology is underpinned by “a decentralised ledger technology similar to blockchain, but rather than there being one over-arching ledger updated simultaneously on all nodes (devices) in the network, each node stores its own information.”

Post-blockchain tech

RedGrid’s architecture, developed with Holochain – “a community of passionate humans building a distributed generalised compute platform” – uses distributed hash tables. This means that all nodes have the capacity to retrieve the information on another node – but there is no need for all nodes to be updated simultaneously. This makes it faster than traditional blockchain.

Says Bumpus: “Blockchain is a clunky, difficult technology. With this, each machine talks the same language, so it can scale machine to machine, but it’s more of a post-blockchain solution.”

RedGrid’s aim is to create an “internet of energy” in 2021, when settlements in the energy market are mandated to move to every five minutes, rather than every 30 minutes.

According to Bumpus, the technology underpinning the energy market is unable to handle the shift to five-minute settlement periods.

“[In five years] we see the energy market enabled from the bottom up by communities using their own virtual mini-grids where the market is determined by distributed energy resources. There will be a patchwork of mini-grids talking to themselves and each other and areas with solar and wind power will be able to sell that to the other mini-grids.”

Learn more about holochain by watching the video below: